John McCrea's Fun-Loving, Magical Terrors in 'Mythic'

by Matthew Derman

9 July 2015

John McCrea’s combination of bananas-crazy and legit-scary artwork is enough to keep one enthusiastically following the title all on its own, patiently waiting for the meat of the plot and/or characters to reveal themselves in full.
 
cover art

Mythic #1-2

John McCrea, Phil Hester

(Image)
US: May 2015

Mythic isn’t a great comicbook… yet. It’s only two issues deep, and it has many fantastic moments and ideas, so it definitely feels like a series that’s destined to grow into its greatness eventually, perhaps sooner than later. In the opening two chapters, we are only briefly introduced to the world, the heroes, and hints of the central conflict, so there’s lots of information and excitement still to come now that the foundation’s been laid.

What makes it work already, even while it’s still putting all the pieces in place, is its humor, style, and rapid-fire pacing, all of which are contributed to by writer Phil Hester, but it is artist John McCrea who stands out as the real heart of Mythic so far. In a story that wants to be equal parts epic, hilarious, and frightening, the visuals provide a much stronger, more consistent blend of those elements than the rest of the title has up to this point. Everything’s good, but McCrea’s work rises above, helping to sell the comic in these early days as well as emphasize the immense potential it has for the future.

From Mythic #1

From Mythic #1

The reality of Mythic is one in which magic is an essential part of the world, a force in charge not only of the marvelous aspects of life, but the banal, as well. A drought is not a weather problem, it occurs because a cloud and mountain get into a lover’s quarrel, so the cloud stops bringing the mountain any rain, a.k.a. sex. Our protagonists’ job is to solve these problems, using a variety of magical tricks and techniques to make sure the Earth keeps spinning like it’s supposed to. They are magical repairmen, troubleshooters, tech support. It’s a fun idea, simple and maybe familiar, but there’s a corporate element to Mythic, the titular organization for which our heroes work, that makes the whole thing feel new. They get sent out on jobs in field teams, there’s paperwork and other bureaucracy involved, they wear uniforms, etc. Mythic is not a gang of mages and mystics working in the shadows. It’s a structured company doing a necessary job, and doing it more or less out in the open.

That said, there’s a definite atmosphere of good humor, zaniness, and fun baked into the Mythic professional culture. The employees genuinely love their work, or at least the few we’ve met seem to, and they get a real kick out of explaining what they do to the uninitiated. Magic may be everywhere all the time in Mythic, but that doesn’t mean the general population is aware of it. It’s still a hidden element, so the people who fix it when it breaks have to fill the normal folks in on what’s happening, and there’s a clear joy that comes with delivering this information and seeing just how dumbfounded, aggravated, and/or scared it can make somebody. They use odd methods, too, and interact with all manner of magical beings, so there are plenty of bizarre, awesome sights to behold that everyone can enjoy, whether they’re expecting them or not. Which is exactly why McCrea’s contributions are so important to the book’s whole vibe, and why his work is the stuff that grabs and impresses me the most.

In drawing the different monsters (for lack of a better term) that inhabit this comic, McCrea has a fine line to walk. The creatures need to match the general comedic tone of the series but also be convincingly awe-inspiring and terrifying so we buy them as powerful, dangerous challenges for our stars. They also need to look new, even if they’re old ideas. When we see a giant, it can’t be just another fantasy-style big human with a club; McCrea’s got to add his own spin, to make everything belong in this particular world, rather than merely doing imitations of established concepts. They should be recognizable but unique, the Mythic versions of things we’ve seen many places before.

From Mythic #2

From Mythic #2

So far, McCrea has done all this quite skillfully. He’s inventive in his designs, and though there have already been, by my count, something like seven different creatures in the two issues that’ve come out, every one of them is equally memorable and engaging, and no two really look alike. They all fall under McCrea’s unifying aesthetic, a high-energy, elastic, always-in-motion art style that adds a nice urgency to the events of the narrative, but they’re distinct from one another, too. Even the giant and the living mountain from issue #2, who are colored with many of the same hues and are both enormous and rough-skinned, don’t have all that much in common when it comes to the finer details. The giant is angrier looking, not just in his face but in all his features, the jagged fingernails and crooked teeth and wild eyes. The mountain is smoother and gentler in appearance, a collection of distinct, rounded stones held together by magic rather than a single huge, horrifying, angular figure. Everyone has their own look, and the book as a whole has a look of its own into which they all fit.

Even with all the monsters and the gigantic threats they represent, Mythic is a comedy above all, a lighthearted take on some heavy-duty ideas. It’s not, “wouldn’t it be cool if the world ran on magic,” but rather, “wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the world ran on magic,” which is an attitude I think I prefer. There’s an inherent absurdity to magic that is often ignored in fiction, because stories involving magic often take it more seriously, presenting it as an artform, a rigorous discipline, and/or a deep secret to be unlocked. In Mythic, it’s still hidden for the world at large, but for the stars of the series it’s relatively mundane, a part of their everyday, a problem to be solved. So their attitude toward magic is less heavy-handed and more “here we go again”.

McCrea’s art magnifies this sensibility, and is perhaps the funniest facet of the series. Even when there’s serious stuff going on, the images always have a certain warped silliness to them. I feel like this is best exemplified right in the opening scene of the opening issue, before we’ve really had the book’s tone or concept defined for us. A young man is attacked by two monsters that are so strange-looking and original, and that appear so suddenly, you can’t help but laugh at the sheer unexpectedness of it all. I don’t know how else to describe them except as a pair of demonic primates with connected ponytails and blades for hands who burst out of a wart on the face of a comically hideous old hag. It’s madness, but a jovial sort of madness, amusing in its unfiltered creativity and insanity. This is true of every new monster we meet, especially the fiery, fangs-and-claws demon that literally bursts out of the body of the aforementioned giant, pulling the giant’s skin off of its own like he’s ripping apart a latex body suit. That is such a weird moment, and it happens with so little warning, that the comedy is unavoidable.

From Mythic #3

From Mythic #3

It’s important to note that the humor does nothing to make these beasts any less intimidating or unnerving. They’re still nasty, powerful, mean-looking, and clearly not to be trifled with, which is why the world needs Mythic to come in and save the day. It’s all fun and games up to a point, but the stakes are significant, keeping the fabric of reality intact and saving who knows how many lives in the process. McCrea always balances the goofy and the grim, so that everything in Mythic can be appreciated on multiple levels, and nothing feels out of place.

Hester and colorist Michael Spicer are of course integral to Mythic’s success as well. I don’t mean to dismiss or downplay what they bring to the table. McCrea’s visuals without context or color would just be above-average sketches of monsters causing chaos. All the same, it’s McCrea who makes me want more, who pushes Mythic over the line from being another decent read to a book that is not to be dropped. He makes it fun and fascinating in ways it wouldn’t be without him, even if it had the same script and colors. That’s true to a degree no matter who you’re talking about—remove Hester or Spicer and this is no longer the same book, as is the case with any collaborative art; everyone who’s a part of it makes it what it is. It’s just that in this specific case, McCrea comes across as the biggest star, the most compelling contributor, the soul of the comic.

Typically I want both a solid story hook and something good to look at, but with Mythic, McCrea’s combination of bananas-crazy and legit-scary artwork is enough to keep me enthusiastically following the title all on its own, patiently waiting for the meat of the plot and/or characters to reveal themselves in full. That’s a rare and wonderful thing, and it deserves to be recognized and applauded whenever encountered.


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